City Limits

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On Monday night, your Ward Room blogger had a momentous decision to make. Run six miles with a club at Fleet Feet Sports in Lincoln Square, or run six miles with a club in Evanston? The starting points were each five miles from my home in Rogers Park, but Evanston had an advantage: I wouldn’t have to feed a parking meter, and I wouldn’t have to drive through the red light camera at Western and Devon. I went to Evanston.

An evening in Evanston vs. an evening in Lincoln Square isn’t as headline-making as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange threatening to leave town if it doesn’t get a tax break. But it’s a choice people are making, as the threat of a $50 parking ticket or a $100 red light camera turns driving in the city into an unacceptable financial risk. Now, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is asking the General Assembly for permission to install cameras that will issue $100 tickets to speeding motorists. He says it’s for the safety of children, which is what he always says when someone questions his motivations. It’s really about revenue.

But my own experience tells me that turning the city into a giant red light/parking ticket/speed trap hurts small businesses and costs the city sales tax revenue. Had I run in Lincoln Square, I might have hung around the neighborhood to watch Game 5 of the World Series at The Daily Bar & Grill. Instead, I watched at home.

Granted, living in a border neighborhood gives me options that aren’t as convenient to someone in Bridgeport or Washington Park. Businesses on the edge of the city suffer most. The Magnificent Mile and Lake View offer urban experiences the suburbs can’t duplicate. A Schaumburg Flyers game is not the same as a Cubs game. But when a Northwest Side family has to choose between a diner in Edison Park and a diner in Park Ridge, why not avoid the parking meters?

Shortly after the meters were installed, the Rogers Park website The Urban Coaster examined their effect on North Clark Street:

According to Anita Miller, who has owned a business on Clark for ten years, “Parking has always been a problem here, but this is really a monumental kind of thing ... fewer people are patronizing the businesses here.”

Even a casual observer can’t help but notice the open space in what was just a few weeks ago one of the busiest commercial areas in Rogers Park. Whole blocks that normally are filled with cars now remain open for lengthy periods.

One man said of the relentless ticketing by police and a private enforcement service: “That’s the final straw. ... How is a woman with three kids ... a stroller, bags supposed to walk there [to the paybox for a receipt] and back? ... Why should she come here for that bull---? She can just go to Evanston. And that’s what’s happening here.”

Emanuel’s long residence in Washington, D.C., and his elite financial status have  put him out of touch with the hassles that ordinary Chicagoans have to deal with. Now that he’s back home, maybe he’ll learn. It was his neighborhood I avoided the other day. That was a little decision, but a lot of little decisions can add up to something big. 

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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